I hate to admit it, but I often feel pretty sorry for myself on the drive to my Herceptin appointments every three weeks. I try to bolster my self-pity with reminders that it’s not as bad as chemo, my disease is totally managed, Herceptin is a miracle drug, etc. These thoughts help, but honestly they’re mostly drowned out by the reality of how sick I’m going to feel for the next few days and that I have to do this every three weeks FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. So I drag my feet a bit.
However, I always leave these infusion appointments overwhelmed with gratitude. Because while I’m there I see the people who are still in the thick of their cancer battles; I see people who are being destroyed by the chemo that is destroying their cancer; I see people who smile anyway and are kind despite their pain; I see people who are longing to be at the stage I’m at. Self-pity can’t survive that environment. So I leave with praises on my heart and lips to the God who has brought me to this place. My current story may include Herceptin, but at least it doesn’t include active cancer and grueling chemo.
During one of my recent Herceptin appointments, I met someone who changed my perception of my treatments forever.
I often have wonderful conversations with the nurses and the other people getting treatment around me. People in the cancer world are almost always exceedingly kind, because they know everyone around them is living out a very hard tale. This camaraderie and friendliness is often a big part of lifting my spirit, and I make it my goals to bless the people I speak with and to listen well.
On this particular day, I started off as the only patient in the treatment room. My nurse and I chatted amiably as she plugged me in, and then I was left in silence to read my book (truly a treat in my life full of boisterous boys). I was fully engrossed in the female prison system—I highly recommend Orange is the New Black—when a beautiful lady and her husband followed my nurse to the chair next to me. The woman relied heavily on the cane in her right hand, and I could tell each step was incredibly painful. But I was taken with her grace and dignity and the way her husband looked at her with love and veiled concern. There’s no way to avoid eavesdropping in those close quarters, so I soon learned this was her very first chemo to treat breast cancer. My heart clenched as I remembered my first appointment, the uncertainty and fear mixed with relief at being able to tangibly fight back. I couldn’t help but noticing this woman and her husband were a lot like Ryan and me, just a couple decades older. The husband cracked jokes all throughout the chemo orientation, making the woman giggle and the nurse smile uncertainly. Ryan often made me laugh during the most dire moments, breaking fear’s hold and making the nurses uneasy.
I didn’t want to interrupt anything and my treatment was almost done, so I wrote my name and information on a piece of paper, planning to hand it to her on my way out. After the nurse came over to unplug me, she paused and said, “Caitlyn, do you think you could speak to Kathy about your experience with your port?” My heart leapt at the opening, and I turned to the women eagerly.
Our conversation only lasted about five minutes. She had lots of questions, and I had lots of answers. For good or ill, I was a veteran of this battle and had a lot to share about ports, side effect medication, natural remedies, and helpful foods. We both smiled a lot as we talked, and her husband smiled at us smiling. I saw her grip his hand and grin at him, and I could read her thoughts. They both saw me as a light at the end of their tunnel—proof that there was an end to this cancer tunnel after all and even some smiles to be found there.
I reminded her I truly meant it when I said it was ok to call about anything, and I turned to gather my stuff. Ryan and the boys were waiting for me outside the hospital. “Caitlyn,” she said right before I turned to leave, “I believe God sent you here today to give me hope. You have lifted my heart in a way I didn’t think was possible today. Thank you.”
“You’ve lifted my heart too,” I answered.
As I left the building, I was struck with the beauty of her words. Could it be that these treatments I dread so much are actually serving a bigger purpose? Of course they keep my cancer at bay, but could God be using my treatment time to give others hope? These thoughts filled my heart with joy and purpose. Funny how even painful things become purposeful when I forget myself and realize there’s a lot more at work than my own journey.
I was overwhelmed at the privilege God gave me in talking to that woman and her husband at the beginning of their chemo journey. While past Herceptin experiences had made me thankful for my current situation, I was suddenly filled with gratefulness for the hard journey behind me. Without that road, I wouldn’t have this exclusive access to people’s hearts when they are in a very vulnerable state.
They don’t let just anyone into cancer centers. All of the ones I’ve been to have had very strict rules about who can come in. Patients’ weakened immune systems and the desire to minimize how traumatic the experience can be lead to lots of rules about who is allowed. I have had a heart for people struggling with cancer for many years, but it wasn’t until I was a cancer patient that I got a ticket into their inner circle. The most humbling part is that this is the way of Jesus. He became one of the sick, persecuted and needy in order to get access to their hearts. I didn’t choose this path like he chose his, and yet I feel so thankful to be able to walk in his footsteps in this way.
Talking with the woman reminded me not only am I not writing this story I’m living, I’m not the protagonist. God is. He is making me part of his story, and he is weaving my storyline with everyone around me. I want to be quicker to see my circumstances, especially the hard ones, as exclusive access to the hearts of the people walking alongside me.
May you recognize the places you’ve been granted exclusive access today. May you be bold in stepping into the way your storyline intersects and even alters the storylines around you. And may you focus on the protagonist who is also a most wonderful story-teller.